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THE MATRIX TRILOGY
4K Ultra HD Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving
Director:  The Wachowskis
Audio:  Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  Warner Bros.
Features:  See Review
Release Date:  October 30, 2018

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The Matrix ****

Nothing I can say will fully prepare you for the experience of seeing The Matrix.  If you don’t know what it’s all about, or even if you’re pretty sure you do know, trust me…there are many surprises in store for you.  I thought I knew going in, but I had no idea just how deep and far reaching the concept really was.  And don’t worry…no spoilers in this review.

Keanu Reeves plays Thomas Anderson, a mild mannered cubicle dweller by day, and a hacker named Neo at night.  For a long time now, he has been intrigued by the concept of the “matrix”…something he can’t quite identify, but still believes it exists, and something he’s trying desperately to find.  His search eventually leads him to Morpheus (Fishburne) and Trinity (Moss), two other famed but low profile hackers.  They know he’s on to something, as do the Agents, a strange team of law enforcers who appear to be protecting the secret of the matrix.

Soon, Neo finds himself face to face with the truth…and it is more incredible, frightening, and extensive than neither he nor the audience could have ever imagined.  What’s more, once his concept of real and unreal have been completely shaken up and turned upside down, it appears he may be destined to be the leader of a forthcoming revolution in a war he never knew existed.

The film is an absolute triumph of script and story, and unabashed imagination.  It is also a mind blowing spectacle of action, special effects, and visual style.  It combines the very best of action with the very best of science fiction to create a fully realized and believable futuristic world where no possibility is left unexplored.  And best of all…once you think you’ve gotten the hang of it, and understand the premise and how it works, there’s always one more jaw dropping surprise around the corner.

The Wachowskis, who also wrote and directed the terrific film Bound, have created perhaps the ultimate comic book movie…and I mean that as a compliment.  They’ve drawn heavily on their love for Japanese animation, Hong Kong action films complete with graceful wire work, and combined them for a unique visual look, which no doubt will be an influence felt in the cinematic world for many years to come.  I can’t stress enough just how much this film is unlike anything I’ve seen before, and how much I appreciate the work, dedication, and imagination behind it.

It’s also a film that delights in both thrilling and challenging the audience.  It opens with one of the most exhilarating action sequences conceived, but it’s more than just action.  Clues are dropped as to the nature of the film and the imagined world the characters occupy.  In other words, you can’t help but continue thinking about it after the adrenaline rush is over.  And the movie maintains that momentum throughout.  Every time you see a show stopping piece of action, there’s a topper waiting in the wings.  And each time the film gives you something to ponder about the nature of the matrix, it won’t be long before it gives you something else to think about.  And I can promise, you will be thinking about them, throughout the movie and long past the rolling of the credits.

In short, The Matrix is a multi-tiered movie that never loses sight of its original vision.  It’s complex, but not confusing, thrilling, but not empty, challenging, but not tiring.  It is a skillful blend of many elements all working together to service the story.  It is imagination fully realized.  It is a film that I believe has raised the bar for both action and science fiction, and has proven that it’s possible for a movie to be both thrilling and intelligent at the same time.  No matter where your film tastes may lie, this is definitely one you don’t want to miss.

The Matrix Reloaded ****

Once upon a time, a bold new vision of science fiction graced the movie screen.  The first part of what would become a trilogy, it instantly captured the imaginations of filmgoers everywhere, its vocabulary and philosophy became a part of our culture, and its heroes became icons because they represented the best of humanity confronting the end product of our darkest sides.

Am I talking about Star Wars or The Matrix?  Both.  And the reason I do is because as an 8 year old child seeing the former for the first time, I never believed I would ever again see anything that would enthrall me and fuel my imagination as much as it did...especially once I got old and cynical.  But sometimes lightning strikes twice.  I guess what I’m trying to say is that I love The Matrix movies, but not only for their great storytelling, their remarkable advancement in cinematic technology, their characters and their message.  I love them because they remind me what it was like to be a wide-eyed kid thinking that ANYTHING was possible in the movies.

The Matrix created a bold new vision.  The Matrix Reloaded furthered it, showing that the “rabbit hole” went even deeper than we knew.  It’s not a sequel, but a continuing chapter in a trilogy.  Therefore, it doesn’t attempt to repeat the formula of the first (that would be impossible; the stunning revelations of the world of the Matrix could not have been duplicated), but turns to the next part of the story while addressing the concept of man vs. machine made in his image with more thought, deeper philosophy, and a greater realization of the full scope of the war.

WARNING:  While this review contains no spoilers for Reloaded, it may spoil the first film for those who haven’t seen it yet.  If you’re one of them, stop reading now and go buy The Matrix and watch it as soon as possible…you’ve been denied long enough.

In the time since we last left the Matrix, more than a quarter million humans have been freed from it, and the last human city of Zion has been flourishing underground.  Neo (Reeves) has just about fully come into his own as The One who was prophesized to bring about the end of the war between man and machine.  His captain Morpheus (Fishburne) is still the greatest believer in that prophecy, holding fast to faith in a world of technology.  And Trinity (Moss) is still in support of Neo as both warrior and lover.

But the triumphant return of humanity may be short lived.  When it’s discovered that sentinel machines are digging to get to Zion with more than enough power to wipe out the free humans, there are only hours to either prepare for a battle to the death or to follow Morpheus’ belief that Neo can bring about the end of the war as predicted.  Doing so will mean a return to the Oracle (Foster) and facing off against an old nemesis, Agent Smith (Weaving) who has becoming freed from the mainframe himself.

The journey will bring our heroes deeper into the secret of the Matrix, and it’s something bigger and more sinister than they (or we) could have imagined.  In fact, the secret of the Matrix may come down to the answers of the most basic but persistent of philosophical questions:  namely, do we have choice in our actions?  Is what we do predetermined?  Or does it all come down to cause and effect, with control as an illusion?

At this point, if you haven’t seen the movie, you’re probably thinking man, that sounds like heady, heavy handed material for science fiction or action.  It’s part of what makes the film so great, though.  Yes, you could argue that the thinking process is somewhat basic and superficial, but when was the last time a movie like this dared to be about anything substantial at all?

But the other part of what makes the film so great is the sheer adrenaline pumping ecstasy of it.  There is plenty of action to go with the mental stimuli, which can be reduced down to three major sequences that are possibly the finest and most exhilarating ever constructed for a film.  I was fortunate enough to see this movie in a packed house at a sneak preview, and I’ve never heard anything in my life to compare with the sounds of the audience reaction to these scenes.  It was like a rising chorus of unintelligible noise caused by a large crowd of individuals who were so thrilled by what they saw that they didn’t even realize their breath was vibrating their vocal cords.  There were explosions of cheers, strangers high-fiving one another, and a roar of angst and delight as the film ended on a sharp cliffhanger, making way for the final installment Revolutions.

If the first film utilized bold new technology to create visuals never before seen in action or science fiction (and it certainly did, scoring a well-deserved Oscar for its efforts), then the second takes it even further.  The “bullet-time” concept is explored even more, as we follow characters in slow motion as they dive through high windows and fall, dodge bullets, fly and fight, all with the technology of bringing the impossibly fast action down to a digestible speed while simultaneously giving us all angles at once.  It’s a technology that’s been copied and spoofed to death, but never equaled nor surpassed until The Matrix Reloaded.

The critics who got the entire picture lauded it with praise.  Those who weren’t plugged in (no pun intended) were sometimes cold and cruel in their short-sighted reviews.  I don’t wish to insult any of my brethren in criticism, but it was obvious from reading the negative reviews that something was very wrong with the authors’ points of view.  Some seemed as though they hadn’t seen the first movie (a tragic mistake; you’ll never follow the second film without having seen the first), others found the philosophy and faith questions more than they wanted to deal with in a movie of this nature.  One of our local critics here in Jacksonville actually slammed the film saying it wasn’t “the least bit scary”.  Scary?  What movie did he think he was going to see?

Having seen the film four times already at the time of this writing, and having discussed it over and over with friends and colleagues who were equally enthusiastic, I can only say that I don’t understand how anyone could dismiss this movie, for three major reasons:  one, it’s a genuine story continuation, not a rehashing like so many sequels we get nowadays.  Two, it combines special effects and storytelling to create a completely believable, realized, and engrossing science fiction world that captures viewers’ imaginations like no film since the Star Wars ones.  And three, it boasts some of the most exhilarating action of any motion picture I’ve ever seen.

In a nutshell, The Matrix Reloaded, like its predecessor, does more than walk a fine line between science fiction and action.  Much more…it’s both the year’s best science fiction and the year’s best action film in one package. 

Matrix Reloaded ***

Everything that has a beginning has an end…even a powerful, inspiring and lucrative franchise like The Matrix.

When the Wachowskis unleashed their original vision of a computer generated world fooling our subconscious minds into submission and a brewing all out war between machines and the men who made them, their film became an instant classic in both the realms of science fiction and action.  Their spectacular vision was realized with a great deal of imagination, a homage to the traditions of Hong Kong swordplay and kung fu films, and revolutionary special effects that not only changed the way we looked at action (the “bullet time” camerawork), but earned Oscar recognition as well.

2003 saw both the middle and final chapters of the saga, but unfortunately, this time neither reviewers or the Academy were as kind.  Despite the crafting of the most amazing special effects sequence I’d ever seen in The Matrix Reloaded and topping it a few months later with Matrix Revolutions, the technical achievements went unheralded.  Worse still were the number of prolific critics who just didn’t seem to get it, or that thought that the films’ constant reaching for philosophical and theological themes was going beyond what they were capable of doing.

But the fans knew better.  Reloaded was a monster success.  Revolutions was maybe a little less so, but one fact was abundantly clear:  most of us were hooked and in for the long haul.

The two sequels were filmed simultaneously and really designed to flow together as one continuing story.  Reloaded left us eagerly awaiting the conclusion.  Revolutions finally delivered the finale that we’ve known was coming for years:  the battle for Zion, the underground last human city.

Looking at the overall plot diagram of the series, Revolutions represents the end of the rising action and the full crux of the climax.  It’s absolutely awash in spectacle and action.  Unlike it’s immediate predecessor, which was centered around three major sequences, once the action begins here, it never relents.

The resulting film works better as a conclusion to a trilogy than as a stand alone film…not because you need to see the original movies to comprehend it (which is true of all trilogies, I think, including Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings), but because it really relies on the character development and rapport that went before.  It’s mostly absent from this final installment, which is why I think the overall effect is a little less satisfying.

Neo (Reeves) is back…we last saw him in a precarious state, and I have to say, the resolution to what we’ve been digesting for those several months wasn’t quite as fulfilling as I would have hoped.  As the war between man and machine is nearing its Gettysburg, he’s becoming more and more aware of what it means to be designated The One prophesized to bring about the end of the war.

With him still are the resourceful Trinity (Moss) as lover and best friend, and his captain Morpheus (Fishburne), who suffered a crisis of faith in the last installment but is finding it in himself to believe once more. 

As the machine sentinels draw closer and closer to Zion, the city gears up for a fight to the finish.  At the same time, the now renegade Agent Smith (Weaving) is growing more and more powerful.  Once an operative program for the machines, he has broken loose and turned into something that threatens both human and mechanical worlds.

The battle for Zion is, as I mentioned, the most spectacular vision I’ve ever seen on the big screen.  It doesn’t disappoint, and indeed, everything we had seen up to that point has brought us to it.  I didn’t have a problem with the size of the epic so much as the fact that the human scope, which was kind of the whole point of the series, seemed a little lost in it all.

I loved Neo, Morpheus and Trinity, as well as Niobe (Pinkett Smith), and I wanted to feel that Zion’s crucial moment was theirs as well.  It was to an extent, but I was still a little surprised at the end how much they seemed apart from it all.

Taken individually, this movie is a little bit less than its predecessors.  Taken as a part of a greater whole, it works as the final stretch of a lengthy and involving science fiction story.  The Wachowskis remain consummate artists, elevating both fantasy and action to greater and greater heights with their employment of technology and their skill as storytellers. 

The Matrix was indeed revolutionary; an indelible landmark in the realm of science fiction that will mark the progress of the genre for a long time to come.

Video ****

Warner has presented these films with terrific Ultra HD transfers with HDR.  These are brand new scan of the original camera negatives and the first restoration of the film since their releases.  Coloring doesn’t always look natural, but that’s exactly the point.  Green tones were brought up, and blues down, to accentuate the concept that there may be something wrong with the world we’re looking at.  In various other scenes, slight color manipulations are used also to enhance the feel and moods.  Overall, images are sharp and clear, with strong definitions and no bleeding.  There is an occasional bit of grain noticed, but not enough to be a distraction.

Audio ****

The uncompressed soundtrack across all films is spectacular.  Loud and dynamic, and filled with impressive effects, making full use of front and rear stages with plenty of crossovers and good balance.  The .1 channel will definitely have you feeling the vibrations in your chair and on your floor.  Overall, this may be one of the best sounding discs on the market.

Features ****

The Matrix

The Matrix Reloaded

The Matrix Revolutions

Summary:

So what is The Matrix?  You definitely want to find out for yourself.  Suffice to say, it is an exciting, original, and smart science fiction thriller, with a great story and concept, a great script, a terrific cast, and an amazing visual look, all on a terrifically packaged trilogy set.

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